Is Netflix film Hit Man based on a true story? Was Gary Johnson a real person?'

Virgin Radio

11 Jun 2024, 15:19

Glen Powell in Hit Man

Credit: Netflix

Unmasking the truth behind Glen Powell's Netflix chart-topping film and its mysterious protagonist.

Glen Powell’s newest project, Hit Man, has skyrocketed to the top of Netflix’s film charts just days after its release.

Directed by the legendary Richard Linklater, known for hits like School of Rock and Dazed and Confused, this film takes us on a wild ride through the life of undercover police officer Gary Johnson.

But just how true is this 'somewhat true story'? And was Gary Johnson a real person?



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Hit Man tells the story of Gary Johnson (played by Powell), a philosophy professor who moonlights as an assassin-for-hire to help the police with sting operations.

The plot is as shocking as it is intriguing, prompting viewers to wonder how much of Johnson’s life is real and how much is Hollywood magic.

Spoiler alert!

In the film, Johnson is depicted as a nerdy bird-watching enthusiast with a 'forgettable face,' perfect for slipping into his hitman personas.

The real Gary Johnson, however, taught classes in human sexuality and psychology in Texas and worked with local law enforcement in Houston.

Just like his on-screen counterpart, Johnson met with people soliciting hitmen, wore a wire, and extracted confessions.

The film is inspired by a 2001 Texas Monthly article by journalist Skip Hollandsworth, who painted Johnson as 'the Laurence Olivier of the field.'

His undercover work led to the arrests of 60 would-be murderers in Houston. Under various aliases like Mike Caine, Jody Eagle, and Chris Buck, Johnson was regarded as the 'greatest professional hitman in Houston' by his clients.

“He’s the perfect chameleon,” Houston lawyer Michael Hinton told Hollandsworth.

“He never gets flustered, and he never says the wrong thing. … He fools them every time.”

In Hit Man, Johnson is hired by a woman named Maddy Masters (Adria Arjona) to kill her abusive husband, Ray (Evan Holtzman).

Instead of soliciting a confession from Masters, Johnson advises her to use the money intended for Ray’s murder to leave him and start a new life.

But things take a steamy turn as Johnson and Masters end up in bed together, starting a relationship. Ray, of course, comes back for revenge, leading to more drama.

Reality, however, paints a slightly different picture. There's no evidence that Johnson ever dated any of his clients. The professor, married and divorced three times, was described by his second wife, Sunny, as a 'loner.'

She told Texas Monthly: “He’ll show up at parties and have a good time, and he’s always friendly, but he likes being alone, being quiet. It’s still amazing to me that he can turn on this other personality that makes people think he is a vicious killer.”

Johnson himself told Hollandsworth: “Doing what you do, it’s sort of hard to trust people… I think it would be fair to say that I don’t let many people get too close.”

Though Johnson never had romantic entanglements with clients, he did meet a woman who was a victim of abuse and chose to help her rather than arrest her.

Hollandsworth wrote: “Instead of setting up a sting to catch the woman and send her off to jail, he decided to help her.

"He referred her to social service agencies and a therapist to make sure she got proper help so she could leave her boyfriend and get into a women’s shelter.”

In the film, things escalate with Masters killing her ex-husband Ray and Johnson taking out a crooked cop who threatens to expose them. Notably, the real Johnson never killed anyone, staying firmly on the side of the law.

The film concludes with a title card describing Johnson as the 'chillest dude imaginable,' who loved animals, was a Vietnam War veteran, and a practicing Buddhist. Born in 1947, Johnson passed away before Hit Man began filming in 2022, with the cause of death remaining unknown.

So, there you have it, folks. While Hit Man takes some creative liberties, the essence of Gary Johnson’s undercover escapades remains rooted in truth.

Hitman is available to stream on Netflix now.